NFL commissioner says more teams could add fans back to stands this season

Though Covid-19 concerns continue to impact the nation, the National Football League is confident its health and safety protocols will be adequate to finish its season and host spectators, league Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday.

The NFL boss joined CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” on Wednesday to discuss the league’s stance on allowing spectators this season and said the NFL isn’t pressured by President Donald Trump to hold games with full stands.

“We feel our own pressure,” Goodell said. “We want our fans to be able to experience the games. That’s always been our intent: to open up for our fans.”

The NFL will celebrate its 101st season on Sept. 10 when the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs play the Houston Texans. The Chiefs are one of the few teams that will allow fans for home games. Other teams include the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins.

Goodell said the NFL discussed its plans with local officials and added that more teams could allow fans before the season concludes.

“People want to get comfortable, not only our fans but also the local officials, and we support that,” he said.

Goodell also held a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon. On the call, he was asked by CNBC if teams that do allow fans have a competitive advantage over opponents who will start the year without attendance.

“We do not believe it’s a competitive advantage,” Goodell said on the call, adding the issue was discussed with the NFL’s competition committee.

“We’re going to create a safe environment in our stadiums, and we’re going to invite [fans] in whenever we can do that in a responsible and safe way,” said Goodell. He added that 70% of NFL season ticket holders have renewed or rolled over credits for future games.

The NFL is also finalizing authentic crowd noise to pipe into stadiums without spectators, and broadcast partners would implement the noise throughout its telecasts for games without attendance.

Asked about concerns the NFL’s stance supporting social injustice causes could hurt ratings, Goodell downplayed the notion and said the league’s ratings are “the envy of every entertainment and sports property.”

“Ratings will always go up and down for a variety of reasons,” Goodell said, adding the NFL looks “behind the ratings.”

“We don’t look at it as a straight line up and down,” he said. “We look at this as an opportunity to grow our audience with different segments of the population, to make sure we’re reaching more people on more platforms.”

Goodell also touched on future talks surrounding the NFL’s media rights, which currently are valued at more than $5 billion.

According to Sports Business Journal, Goodell was joined by NFL Chief Media and Business Officer Brian Rolapp and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to engage networks on rights packages in June. The NFL’s media rights agreements expire after the 2022 season.

With the league adding a game to its regular season and in March approving reformatting its postseason to include 14 teams, up from 12, expect the NFL to solicit a bigger payday.

Goodell said the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package, currently held by AT&T’s DirecTV (an eight-year deal worth $12 billion), is also receiving “interest from others.”

With consumption habits changing, Goodell said the league would seek new partners that can help the NFL expand beyond television and more into digital.

“We want to reach new platforms where our fans are,” Goodell said. “We’ve got to reach new partners in the context of that. So, I see this negotiation as working with our current partners to continue that relationship as well as bringing new partners in that are going to help us reach those additional [fans].”

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